Illini ready to make impact

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Adam Nekola

Although Trent Meacham watched all 33 games of the Illini’s 2005-06 season as a spectator and hasn’t played in a college basketball game since March 11, 2005, he’s not going to let that faze him when Illinois plays in its first exhibition game Nov. 1. Meacham said it has been an advantage getting an extra year to practice. The redshirt sophomore transfer from Dayton learned from one of the best last season in Dee Brown. And with guarding sophomores Jamar Smith and Chester Frazier all summer, he said he has definitely improved.

“I went to France in August and got to play some games; that really helped me,” Meacham said. “The first couple games I was pretty bad, and once I got comfortable, I felt like I played better every game.”

He said one of the biggest things he has worked on is shooting. Meacham’s hard work to improve his shooting touch bodes well for an Illini team that has to replace its two leading scorers from last season – James Augustine and Brown. Last year’s Illini team averaged 70.0 points per game with Brown contributing 14.2 points per game, and Augustine adding 13.6 per contest.

“I definitely think I can help out,” Meacham said of taking some of the scoring burden off Smith and redshirt junior forward Brian Randle. “One thing this summer that I really tried to improve on was shooting. Coach Weber told me there was no reason I shouldn’t be one of the better shooters in the country.

“I think the biggest thing is being confident shooting the ball.”

Running the Point Position

Stepping into his sophomore season, Chester Frazier knows he’ll be counted on to run the point. He said he’s spent the last six months working on his ball handling and decision-making as he works towards taking on more backcourt responsibility.

“Coach told me not to worry about scoring as much, just to run the show,” Frazier said. “I’m not going to put a lot of pressure on myself to improve my stats from last year. The biggest thing this team needs is if I can get Brian Randle to average 13 or 14 a game, Warren Carter averaging 10 points, get Jamar Smith open a lot more.

“There isn’t as much pressure scoring as people think there is. I just need to come out and run the show.”

Frazier’s got a good model to follow. He said he admires the way former Illinois guard Deron Williams found the open man, improving his overall game by helping to improve his teammates’ stats.

“Deron (Williams) did a good job of getting everybody involved,” Frazier said. “He sacrificed a lot with his own scoring, but he did a good job of getting Dee (Brown) and Luther (Head) open shots. I’ve got a lot of weapons around me this year, we’re a lot more athletic, so we’ll see how it works.”

Front Court Filling Out

Senior forward Warren Carter said Illinois’ frontcourt should be in good shape this season.

With experience and versatility on their side, the big men think they’ll have little problem making up for the hole left when Augustine graduated last spring.

“Everybody can do different things,” Carter said.

“James went outside a little bit, but now we’ve got Shaun who can play inside, maybe I can float a little bit outside,” he added.

Carter should be one of three experienced leaders in Illinois’ frontcourt – redshirt senior Marcus Arnold and Randle also bring a good deal of experience.

Carter said with a strong core returning and a set of solid newcomers on the team, Illinois should be ready to step up its intensity beneath the basket.

“James taught us a lot, but the year before that we lost three big men with Rog (Powell), Jack (Ingram) and Nick (Smith),” Carter said. “Losing James leaves big shoes to fill, but those were six shoes to fill.

“This year we’ve got a lot of strength inside, we’ve got so many big guys who can do so many things, we just have to figure out a way to compensate for the things James did.”

Gaining Aggressiveness

Freshman forward Rich Semrau says the hardest thing about acclimating to Big Ten play will be the aggressiveness factor.

Although it’s not clear how many minutes the Grafton, Ohio, native will average this season, he’s learning something new in practice every day.

“I play against Brian Randle and Warren every day and Brian is usually guarding me,” Semrau said. “That’s a real big difference than in high school.”

And while he said conditioning is not much of a factor for him because he worked with a strength coach in his last year of high school at Lutheran West, he did admit his defense needs work.

“It’s just I’ve got to get my feet quicker,” he said, “get my mindset right when I’m on the court.”